Brothers & Sisters Tap on Fire by Rhythm & Tempo; Choreographer: Ken Kwok; Dancers (from left): Ling Tse, Ken Kwok (back), Shek Wai Lam (front), Charles Teo, Annie Wong, Tancy Tong; Photo: Dicky Wong
Tap Dance? Yes, that’s my field but as soon as I realized that this production was in Cantonese and other dialects, with no English sub-titles, I was wondering how I would be able to review this show. With a Cantonese speaking friend by my side, ready to help whenever I didn’t understand what was going on, I settled down for an evening of entertainment - and what entertainment it was!
The show began with the three-piece live band warming-up and then the dancers came on and set the scene for the evening – 3 couples in different stages of their lives, dancing to songs of the 50s and 60s. Reminiscent of the off-Broadway musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!, the show was made up of various scenes depicting different stages of relationships, with the six main performers taking on a number of different characters. The music consisted of cover versions of great Cantopop classics such as “Ja Jam Bo” alongside well-known Western pop songs from the Beatles and Elvis, as well as some familiar tunes from the musical-theater genre.
Whilst there were plenty of stereotypes portrayed, this concept made the whole show accessible to every member of the audience, whether young or old; local or international; dance-cognizant or not. Everyone was entertained and could identify with the love-struck teenagers going to a funfair; the love triangle when the young girl is chasing the good-looking but arrogant guy, whilst the boy next door is patiently waiting in the shadows to be noticed and the other triangle, when two guys are fighting over the same woman. For me, one of the best scenes was when water rationing was introduced and the sequence turned into a drum jam, using empty buckets. First, they began as a dragon boat team and then the piece developed into a routine reminiscent of Stomp!
These performers certainly knew how to play to each other’s strengths with Charles Teo leading the drumming and vocals and Ken Kwok demonstrating his technical tap dancing skills at appropriate moments in the show. It was very good to see the connection between these two artists after so many years. Ken certainly stepped out of his comfort zone taking on comedic roles from the super smooth and enigmatic movie star to an affected, camp character, whilst Charles took on a more familiar role reminiscent of Malaysia, his homeland. The two of them then adopted the role of good and bad conscience whilst an innocent young man contemplated the rights and wrongs of immersing himself in porn magazines! Even the audience member who was dragged into one scene performed with vigor and enthusiasm!
Brothers & Sisters Tap on Fire by Rhythm & Tempo; Choreographer: Ken Kwok; Dancers (from left): Charles Teo, Ling Tse; Photo: Dicky Wong
The female performers were also strong although their characters appeared to be less defined. For the most part they tended to be the submissive, whining females of days gone by - stereotypical representations of women in the 50s and 60s and many shows of that time. The four main characters were all Musical Theatre graduates from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts but it was good to see two new faces (relatively) who were strong character actors and with the ability to tap dance. Both Hachi Shek and Tancy Tong excelled with their outrageous caricatures but it was Hachi that had the whole audience sympathizing with him in a dramatic scene at the end.
It took me a while to understand the finale of the show which was relatively somber, with the performers dancing to a tango complete with Matador capes and mobile phones - my family didn't even have a land line until the late 60s! After discussion, it seemed that they were trying to compare dating in “the old days” to a contemporary setting, begging the question “has anything really changed?” Personally I would have preferred to have seen an upbeat, comedic number as a finale to the show but that was just me. The show was a complete sell-out and with the enthusiastic audience participation, I was reminded of the crazy antics of British pantomime. Was this a sophisticated evening of theater? Not at all, but it was highly entertaining and provided a wonderful vehicle to promote and recognize tap dance as a legitimate dance form.
Originally from the UK, Mandy has been teaching Tap Dance in Hong Kong for over 35 years. She has attended Tap Festivals in New York, Taiwan and Hong Kong and is currently Honorary Advisor for the Hong Kong Tap Festival, produced by R&T (Rhythm & Tempo).
Brothers & Sisters Tap on Fire
Choreographer: Ken Kwok
Director: Benny Yu
Performance: 2 March 20:00 Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre